Saddle up for a weekend of luxury and low-key adventure in the rolling hills of Florida’s horse country.
Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau
Move over, Lexington. The “Horse Capital of the World” is in Florida. While Ocala has claimed the title since 2001, it’s added extra clout to it with the 2021 opening of the World Equestrian Center, the largest center of its kind on the continent.
Across the WEC’s sprawling 380 acres, you can dine, drink, shop, attend special events, and spectate — summer, fall, and winter are the best seasons to see riders compete. Elsewhere around Ocala, there are over 1,200 farms, some of which give tours and plenty of trails for riding.
Those less equine-inclined will find plenty more outdoor adventure, from mountain biking to zip-lining to exploring the Ocala National Forest. Mix in some relaxation — spa treatments, live theater, and fine dining — and you’ve got all the trappings of a five-star getaway.
Here’s how to make the most of your weekend in Ocala.
What to Do in Ocala, FL
Horseback riding is the classic activity here, and it’s accessible for beginners as young as 6. Try Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides or Makin’ Tracks Trail Rides for a guided ride through Florida’s pristine landscapes.
Be sure to check out the other trails Ocala is famous for. You can venture into Ocala National Forest to tackle the 22-mile Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail. Or try Santos Trailhead, right in town, for some of the best mountain biking in the Southeast, including more than 80 miles of off-roading to suit all skill levels. Nearby, Santos Bike Shop rents bikes and shares trail maps and tips to speed you on your way.
Looking for something even faster? Head to The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park. Its nine zip lines (including the tallest, highest, and fastest) cross two canyons and four lakes.
If you find yourself wishing you could dive into those beautiful blue lakes below, it’s time to hit the springs. In summer, you can swim at one of the many nearby crystal-clear springs. Rainbow Springs State Park and Silver Springs State Park are two of the best, the latter with glass-bottom boat rides since the 1870s.
After all that activity, it’s time to relax indoors. Catch a show-stopping performance at the Ocala Civic Theatre, especially if it’s a musical, or while away an hour or two at the Appleton Museum of Art.
Where to Stay in Ocala, FL
Opened in 2021, The Equestrian Hotel still glistens with newness. Or maybe that’s the polished mahogany and crystal chandeliers in the lobby, a sparkling first impression when you enter the building.
The hotel is located at the WEC, so along with the pool, splash pad, spa, fitness center, and other amenities, you can explore the many shops and restaurants or visit the arenas for live entertainment. Depending on the day, there could be horse competitions, dog shows, car shows, bull riding, or even concerts.
As you’d expect from a luxury hotel, the rooms are sumptuous, with European linens and marble bathrooms. For an extra splurge, get a room with a view of the Grand Arena so you can watch riders leap and canter with their well-trained steeds.
Where to Eat in Ocala, FL
Ocala is a growing city with lots of dining options.
At the World Equestrian Center, you can choose among eight eateries. Enjoy fine wine paired with prime steaks and seafood at Stirrups, grab a burger at the same pub where John Travolta sometimes dines, or indulge in delectable, hand-crafted tarts crafted by the on-site French pastry chef.
Popular restaurants downtown include Ivy on the Square for Southern food with a twist (order Mimi’s Baked Krispy Chicken) and La Cuisine, an award-winning French restaurant great for date night or a lavish Sunday brunch.
Where to Shop in Ocala, FL
Save time to wander the rest of Ocala’s historic downtown. Every Saturday, there’s a farmers market where you can pick up souvenirs like hand-carved signs, figurines, and T-shirts. There’s also a First Friday Art Walk from 6-9 p.m. the first Friday of the month, September through May, with live music under the gazebo, family art activities, artwork available to purchase from local artists.
For more shopping downtown, Marley Mae Market & Paperie and Agapanthus are both good bets for unique gifts, decor, and accessories.
At the WEC, you can browse more than 25 shops selling everything from custom jewelry to furniture to a giant singing bear.
Local Obsession: Ocala, FL, is the Horse Capital
In case you can’t tell, the obsession here is horses. Marion County has produced dozens of national champions over the years, and you can learn all about its equestrian history and even meet the thoroughbreds at one of several area farms. Gypsy Gold Horse Farm is a favorite (pro tip: bring carrots).
Ocala also has a herd of highly colorful horses: the painted “Horse Fever” sculptures. They show up at various places around town, including one in the downtown square.
Book a table on the terrace at Stirrups for some truly deluxe horsey fun. You’ll enjoy a chef-driven dinner as you watch some of the world’s best horses perform right before your eyes.